How can I help someone with a hidden disability?
What is a hidden disability?
A hidden disability: or what some people would call invisible disability, is a condition that impairs everyday life but shows no outward or obvious symptoms.
What are examples of hidden disabilities?
Hidden disabilities can include HIV, epilepsy, dyslexia, chronic pain, mental health problems, diabetes, and disorders such as insomnia. In short, anything that you must personally disclose to someone for them, to be aware of, would be classed as a hidden disability….and this does include autism.
Some people in the autism community use sunflower lanyards to let people know they may need extra support and understanding.
How can I help?
There are several different steps you can take when dealing with someone who has a hidden disability:
The topic of hidden or invisible disabilities can be a very distressing and personal one, so it can be recommended when broaching this topic to be discreet, understanding and most importantly, open-minded. If it is a condition, you have never heard of, you know little of, or you might even be familiar with, it is best to keep an open mind. These kinds of disabilities can affect people in diverse ways, and just because one person might be more capable at dealing with the symptoms and its consequences, this does not mean everyone with a similar disability will be the same.
Follow their lead
When conversing with someone, follow their lead in the conversation and be able to recognize what they want to and not want to talk about. If they do not want to talk about their disability, do not force them, and let them lead the conversation.
Be considerate when asking to help
If the person in question looks like they may need help, do not assume that you can help or may know how to help. Be considerate and ask them if you can do so and in what specific way.
Learn about their type of disability and how it can affect them
Sometimes the best way to approach something is to learn about it beforehand. If they feel confident to share their disability with you, instead of asking them directly how it affects them, a better idea might be to go away and learn about it yourself, and how it affects people. This not only shows willingness to learn and consideration but also shows the other person, that you care and can be trusted if something goes wrong.
Be accepting of the fact that you cannot change who they are
At the end of the day, you are only a person. Simply treating those with hidden disabilities as a fellow human being; with compassion, open-mindedness, understanding and empathy, goes a long way.
So, what can we learn from this?
Hidden disabilities can be a complex and sensitive topic. It is a personal choice for those who live with one to share and a choice which must be respected. However, if a person does feel able to share their disability with you and you feel that you can be a person to rely on, then being open-minded, considerate, understanding, accepting, and learned on their situation can make a world of difference to them and how they can go about their day.